Friday, May 7, 2010

Music and Misery #8 - 7

I've had a miserable week - got zero job offers after two job interviews! Won't be long until I am in the unemployment line. Let's get to the top eight of Forbes most miserable US cities index. Maybe it will make me feel better about having to move into my parent's basement.

8. Buffalo, New York
The second largest city in New York, despite the fact that the population has fallen by more that 50% over the last 50 years. Current population is about 300,000 with a metro area of about 1.2 million. Unemployment rate of 8.63% as of March 2010, which is below the national average of 9.7%. Despite the relatively low unemployment rate, an estimated 28.7% of the population lives below the poverty line, the third worst in the US (and those other two cities are in the misery list top 5). What really makes Buffalo miserable is their craptacular winters. Part of the Snowbelt, Buffalo gets pelted by 2-3 meters (6-9 feet) of snow each year. Buffalo is south of Lake Ontario, and west of Lake Erie, so it can get lake effect snow from either Great Lake. If the wind is right, Buffalo can get a foot of snow, while we in Toronto, 50 miles due north, will only get flurries. Buffalo's sports teams have been nothing to write home about either. The Buffalo Bills have not had a football championship since 1965, and lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990-93. The NHL team, the Buffalo Sabers, has never won a Stanley Cup, and were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round this year.

One great thing about Buffalo: the bars are open until 4:00 a.m. Whoo-Hooo! And their chicken wings rule. Yum! OK, that's two great things.

There are several famous and diverse musicians from Buffalo, notably funk singer Rick James, indie hippie singer Ani DeFranco, alternative singer Natalie Merchant and her former band 10,000 Maniacs, and the jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra. Probably the most famous band from Buffalo is the Goo Goo Dolls.

Goo Goo Dolls - We are the Normal.mp3
Buy: Superstar Car Wash (1993)

Gurf Morlix is also originally from Buffalo, although he now resides in Austin, TX. I wrote about his tremendous 2009 album Last Exit to Happyland a few months ago, but I am reposting this song because it is so good.

Gurf Morlix (with Patty Griffin) - She's a River.mp3
Buy: Last Exit To Happyland (2009)

7. St. Louis, Missouri
Gateway to the West. Now here is a city I know something about. I lived there from 1995-2001, before moving to Toronto. In that time period everyone I know got mugged or faced an attempted mugging, had their car stolen or broken into, and one friend was actually held up at gun point. Not good. Current population is about 300,000 with a metro area of about 2.9 million. St. Louis has a very weird downtown area in that there is none. After 5 pm the city shuts down, unless there is a baseball game. Apparently some of this has changed since I lived there as St. Louis received the World Leadership Award for urban renewal in 2006. Unemployment is around the national average of 10%. St. Louis ranks among the worst in violent crime, with Morgan Quitno ranking it the second most dangerous city in 2009, behind Camden, NJ (which did not make Forbes misery list due to its population of under 245,000, although it could be counted as part of metro Philadelphia). The FBI lists St. Louis as #1 in per capita total violent crime for 2008, #1 in aggravated assault, #2 in murder and non-negligent manslaughter, and #1 in total property crime. Great.

Here is all that Forbes says about St. Louis: "St. Louis is a baseball town, but what about those Rams? The NFL team has won only six games out of 48 the past three years, the fewest wins in football." Weak Forbes, and lazy. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, and have been consistently one of the best national league baseball teams over the last 15 years. The St. Louis Blues hockey team made the playoffs every year from 1979-2006, an NHL record, although now they are in a rebuilding phase.

The weather in St. Louis has a whole range of misery. The spring and fall can be wonderful, but the humidity in the summer is pure torture. You cannot live in St. Louis without A/C. At LEAST two or three "extreme heat warnings" are issued every summer. Plus, huge thunderstorms often sprout tornadoes. I've been in Toronto eight years can only think of one massive St. Louis-style thunderstorm that has rolled through the area. And St. Louis is far enough north where it will still get significant snowfall in the winter, which causes another layer of misery due to the complete city's inability to remove the snow.

So much amazing music originates from St. Louis. Ragtime pianist Scott Joplin produced some of his most famous works while living in St. Louis in the early 1900s. Soul musicians Ike and Tine Turner and Fontella Bass got their start in East St. Louis, as did jazz innovator Miles Davis. Dozens of famous modern musicians hail from St. Louis, and the city still has a tremendous hip-hop and blues scene. One thing I loved about St. Louis when I lived there was the number of incredible local bands.

Arguably the inventor of rock and roll, Chuck Berry, at age 83, still performs live in St. Louis at Blueberry Hill. In fact, he is performing there on Wed., May 19. Sold out!

Chuck Berry - Too Much Monkey Business.mp3
Buy: The Definitive Collection (2006)

The seminal alt country band Uncle Tupelo was originally from Belleville, Illinois, just on the other side of the Mississippi River from St. Louis, and Uncle Tupelo had most of their early gigs in St. Louis.  Upon the demise of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy headed north to Chicago and formed Wilco, while Jay Farrar remained in St. Louis and formed Son Volt. 

Son Volt - Windfall.mp3
From: Acoustic Radio Sessions '95-'96 (Bootleg)

And, since its Friday and I haven't done a Jay Farrar Friday in a while, here's a solo track from Mr. Farrar.

Jay Farrar - California.mp3
Buy: Terroir Blues (2003)


The Warden said...

My man, you killed it on this post. Let me 'splain: We Are the Normal is a great Goo Goo Dolls song, written if I'm not mistaken by one Paul Westerberg.

Gurf Morlix of course was a big force behind Lucinda's best album, Car Wheels; not only producing but playing some scorching lead.

Then you close with one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs, before moving onto Son Volt. If I had an MP3 blog, this could be one of my own posts. Can't give higher praise than that!

Rockstar Aimz said...

Thanks! I did not know that "We Are Not Normal" was written by Westy, and I am a huge Westerberg fan. Cool!!!

Sarah said...

Dude, no wonder I'm so ghetto.

Ron said...


Not to pick nits, but...
Natalie & the Maniacs are from Jamestown, 100 miles South of Buffalo.(home of Lucille Ball)

We could claim Kathleen Edwards, as she lives in Hamilton, which is closer.
(I'd view that as a good draft-pick.)

I'd trade her for "Cute is What We Aim For" (Twice)

-Ron, 500' from Buffalo

D. said...

Rex Hobart also lived in Buffalo ... and Peter Case is from there!! (Nerves, Plimsouls, stellar solo career, even a tribute album dedicated to him!)
And Michael Stipe comes from St. Louisl I always hear the same flatland twang in his and Farrar's voices. Sorry I missed the Son Volt rarities at this late date, but thanks for including an ode to ol' Gurf!!!